Injuries pile up with one month to go in NBA regular seasonFriday, April 16, 2021
BY MARK ARCHER
There is only one month left in the 72-game pandemic-shortened National Basketball Association (NBA) regular season, which is scheduled to conclude on May 16, and the battle for top places are more fervent than in previous seasons due to the novel “Play-In Tournament” that was unanimously approved by the NBA board of governors.
The first to sixth position in both conferences (at the end of the regular season) are the only guaranteed play-off spots, as teams from seventh to tenth (yes, tenth) will have to play additional 'play-in' games to earn the final two places in their respective conferences. In previous seasons, the first eight teams in each conference would automatically advance to the play-offs but, like everything else, the 'pandemic-pivot' has resulted in seismic shifts.
The play-in games will see the seventh-placed team in each conference host the team in eighth position (“Seven-Eight Game”) and the winner will earn the number seven play-off seed. The ninth-placed team in each conference will host the team in tenth position (“Nine-Ten Game”) and the winner of that game will visit the loser of the Seven-Eight Game to determine the number eight seed in each conference.
In a regular season of 82 games, where players are not competing in 30-plus games in a six-week span, this may not have been a big deal, but there is an ever-increasing count of injuries to key players that may result in play-off games devoid of the NBA's big names. The gruelling schedule has already exacerbated the injury list and, combined with the additional play-in games, this may be a lot to ask of the regular starters (many of whom would have played up to October 2020 only to have this season start in December 2020).
The growing list of injured players following a nearly non-existent off season and now a compressed, fast-paced regular season, include: Kevin Durant (Brooklyn Nets) and Joel Embiid (Philadelphia 76ers) who both recently returned from injury; Anthony Davis and LeBron James (Los Angeles Lakers); Kyrie Irving and James Harden (Brooklyn Nets); Giannis Antetokounmpo (Milwaukee Bucks); Victor Oladipo (Miami Heat); Lonzo Ball (New Orleans Pelicans); Kawhi Leonard (Los Angeles Clippers); and, as recently as April 13, Jamal Murray (Denver Nuggets).
In fact, April 2021 has seen no less than seventy-eight injured NBA players with another half of the month remaining. The expectation is for more to come with the brutal requirements of the current regular season.
One cannot argue that the play-in tournament gives more teams more reason to care about winning regular season games, but with key players missing games due to injuries and/or novel coronavirus (contact tracing and cases), the teams teetering at (or past) the edge of sixth place may find it difficult to make it into the postseason.
Most recently, the Denver Nuggets lost Murray in a 107-116 loss to the Golden State Warriors and, based on the reports, he may be out for the rest of the season. Murray had a breakout performance in the NBA bubble last season, where he averaged 26.5 points and 6.6 assists in Denver's impressive postseason run to the Western Conference finals.
Murray began this season a bit cold but started to catch fire in February, where he was shooting 51 per cent from the field and 46 per cent from three-point range. The Nuggets currently occupy fourth position in the West and with their second-leading scorer out, they may struggle through the remaining 18 games in a very closely contested conference.
So too, the defending champion Lakers, with their dynamic duo out due to injury, have seen their stocks slip significantly in the West over the past few weeks. Thankfully for them, both LeBron and “AD” are slated to return shortly, but their match fitness upon returning may also place the Lakers in an uphill run to the play-offs — they currently sit in fifth place.
On the flip side, the laundry list of injuries has now opened doors for other players to step up and make their mark. With each team having less than twenty games remaining and the guaranteed play-off spots currently separated by less than ten games in both conferences, the postseason race will truly come down to the survival of the fittest and every game will feel like a play-in event.
In this evening's feature action, the Philadelphia 76ers will welcome the Los Angeles Clippers into the Wells Fargo Center for a matchup of number one in the East versus number three in the West. The Clippers are on a 6-0 run since the injury to Kawhi, and the 76ers have steadily held on to their lead for months (even when Embiid was out), so this should be exciting.
Other notable games this weekend include the Lakers vs the Utah Jazz on Saturday plus the Atlanta Hawks vs the Indiana Pacers and Miami Heat vs Brooklyn Nets on Sunday – these should prove scintillating as well.
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Team O dds
Brooklyn Nets 3.30
Los Angeles Lakers 4.20
Los Angeles Clippers 6.00
Milwaukee Bucks 8.00
Utah Jazz 8.40
Philadelphia 76ers 12.00
Phoenix Suns 17.00
Denver Nuggets 28.00
Miami Heat 28.00
Dallas Mavericks 35.00
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